We’ve entered the era of peak Pop Performer, a general reveling in the overlap between talent and intellect, entertainment and enlightenment. The current pantheon includes Janelle Monáe, the Atlanta-based singer, songwriter, actor and thinker whose new album Dirty Computer is a big-budget, major-label expression of solidarity for women and femme-identified people set to an eclectic, funk-infused soundtrack. It comes paired with Monáe’s “emotion picture,” a 48-minute sci-fi film that’s as visually striking as her music is sonically adventurous. If it’s any indication of tonight’s concert, expect a radical spectacle of sound and imagery.
June 14 & 16
Leonard Bernstein at Seattle Symphony
Leonard Bernstein was born in 1918 and all this year orchestras are celebrating his music, including Seattle Symphony with this pair of concerts, where a raft of excerpts from his sassy American musical Wonderful Town are on the program. We also get his Prelude, Fugue and Riffs for solo clarinet and jazz orchestra, which should be a delight. The orchestra’s principal clarinet, Benjamin Lulich, is soloist. “Significant Others,” a world premiere by the orchestra’s composer-in-residence Alexandra Gardner, is described as “the musical equivalent of dating several different people”—bright and cheerful but also bittersweet.
Travis Thompson, Karma Knows, Parisalexa, U Moore
Among the rising stars of post-Macklemore Seattle, Travis Thompson is a loquacious, melodic rapper whose flushed cheeks and ever-present smile belie a ready, self-deprecating wit. The unofficial “Mayor of White Center,” Thompson has released a string of mixtapes, EPs and albums, all stellar if not definitive. Tonight, he celebrates the release of an EP produced by Macklemore’s favorite new producer, Tyler Dopps, alongside fellow young lions Karma, a laconic MC from Eastern Washington, R&B powerhouse Parisalexa and producer/DJ U Moore. Together they represent the Northwest’s new cohort of pop-leaning hip-hop.
There was a time when Dirty Projectors were, to this white-dude music critic and many like me, the apotheosis of indie-rock intellectualism; that time was roughly 2007–2010. Under the leadership of genius-auteur David Longstreth, their 2009 masterpiece, Bitte Orca, was unrepentantly complex, esoteric and ambitious, an alluring tangle of math-rock song structures, radio-ready R&B hooks and West African-inflected guitar. A lot has changed in the world since 2010, although, to my ear at least, Dirty Projectors’ headstrong virtuosity hasn’t. As the world burns, I don’t think it needs any more hermetic brilliance for brilliance’s sake. But I’m willing to be convinced.
Here Lies Man
What if Black Sabbath played Afrobeat? This is the operating question behind Here Lies Man, a quintet from LA poised to bulldoze the underground with their second album, You Will Know Nothing, coming out this month. Featuring members of American Afrobeat godfathers Antibalas, HLM’s wrecking-ball rhythms—massive drums, percussion and bass—gird sludgy, reverb-soaked guitars, resulting in a holistic musical experience that’s equal parts body-moving and head-spinning. West Seattle deep-funk ensemble Lucky Brown opens.
Follow up last night’s Afro-Sabbath ordeal (see above) with Brown Sabbath, a Latin-rock tribute to Black Sabbath. The nine-member all-star crew from Austin, Tex. has released two albums of horn-and-percussion-driven covers of classic Sabbath songs, but their latest release, Fear of a Brown Planet, digs into Public Enemy’s catalog, deconstructing the Bomb Squad’s James Brown-sampling productions and rebuilding them in their own swaggery image. The ongoing project establishes an intriguing connection between BS and PE, two of modern music’s heaviest innovators, and the resulting jams are irresistible.
June 28–July 1
Organ and piano at SSO
French composer Camille Saint-Saëns was an organist and his enthusiasm for the instrument shows in his Symphony No 3, known as “the Organ Symphony.” SSO shows off its great organ in the piece, and also plays Saint-Saëns’ “Danse Macabre,” enjoyable year-round, not just at Halloween! Chopin’s instrument was undoubtedly the piano and this inspiration shows in everything he composed, including this Concerto No. 2. Benjamin Grosvenor is the soloist, and Kazuki Yamada conducts.